Curtin Malaysia and Vietnamese pepper R&D centre to undertake joint research

Miri – 24 February 2022 – The Curtin Malaysia Research Institute (CMRI) at Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia) on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for joint research in black pepper quality analysis and monitoring with the Pepper Research and Development Centre (PRDC) of Vietnam.

PRDC, located in Pleiku City, Gia Lai Province in central Vietnam, is part of the Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (WASI) established by Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The centre conducts scientific research into the breeding of black pepper, protection against pests and plant diseases, cultivation methods and post-harvest technologies, as well as market studies and develops strategies for black pepper production. Vietnam is one of the world’s largest producers of pepper, exceeding 280,000 metric tons in 2021.

Signing on behalf of the CMRI in the online signing ceremony were Curtin Malaysia’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive Professor Simon Leunig, and Dean of Research and Development and Director of the CMRI Professor Ramasamy Nagarajan.

Signing on behalf of the PRDC were its director, Nguyen Quang Ngoc, and leader of its Plant Breeding Division, Duong Thi Oanh.

Also in attendance were the PRDC’s Vice-director and Head of Agro-Forestry Technology Transfer Division Nguyen Van Long, and researcher in the Plant Breeding Division, Nguyen Ba Huy. Also representing Curtin Malaysia were Deputy Dean of Research and Development and Director of the Curtin Malaysia Graduate School Professor Agus Saptoro, and Dean of Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Science Professor Tuong-Thuy Vu.

Vice-director Nguyen and Professor Agus initiated and will continue to coordinate the collaboration, which will involve pepper berry picking and sampling of five main varieties of Vietnamese black pepper, chemical and microbiological analyses of the samples, and data analysis and modelling.

Professor Agus recently won Curtin University’s prestigious Curtinnovation Award for ‘AgriSmartEye’, a reliable, low-cost method to analyse black pepper he developed with Master of Philosophy Terence Chia Yi Kai, which will figure quite extensively in the collaborative research to be conducted beginning next month.

AgriSmartEye combines hyperspectral imaging technologies with deep learning artificial neural networks (DLANN) to detect not only adulterants but also the chemical properties and origins of black pepper samples. Preliminary research and lab testing was funded by Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation Berhad (SDEC) and current partners in technological development and prototyping include Malaysia Technology Development Corporation, SDEC and the Malaysian Pepper Board.

In his speech during the ceremony, Professor Leunig commented that the research collaboration between the CMRI and the PRDC was more than just collaboration between two research organisations but also leverages on the fact that both Vietnam and Sarawak are major black pepper producers with their respective strengths and expertise. Black pepper is an important agricultural commodity in Sarawak, contributing to more than 95 per cent of Malaysia’s pepper industry.

Professor Leunig also acknowledged that the PRDC is renowned for being the hub of scientific research and technology transfer for black pepper and other crops in Vietnam, and Professor Agus’ significant research over the past two years has generated a lot of interest from the Malaysian Pepper Board and other government agencies.

He added that as a Sarawak Government-owned institution, Curtin Malaysia receives strong support from the state government and the international collaboration with the PRDC will be viewed positively by state government leaders.

Director Nguyen Quang Ngoc, in his speech, said the PRDC welcomed the collaboration and looks forward to expanding the research to other crops such as coffee and macadamia.

Vice Director Nguyen Van Long, meanwhile, added that the PRDC team is very keen on working with Professor Agus and his team on enhancing the monitoring and testing of peppercorns in Vietnam. He said the PRDC has much to contribute to the collaboration, given its vast experience in pepper production and research, and there is indeed much both organisations can learn from each other.

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Professor Leunig, flanked by Professors Agus and Ramasamy, posing with the MOU following the signing.

PRDC Director Nguyen Quang Ngoc signing the MOU in Vietnam, witnessed by Leader of Plant Breeding Division Duong Thi Oanh.